Russ Hunt's Reviews

By William Shakespeare

Atlantic Theatre Festival, Wolfville, Nova Scotia
12 September 1998

This was as good an Othello as I've seen. I was quite surprised, both because so many productions I've seen have fallen down somewhere, and this one, I'd heard, hadn't had such good reviews, but it really carried the whole unlikely business right through. The Iago was played by the understudy, Paul Essiembre (and Michael Cronin [!] moved up to take his role as Montano). I don't know whether the regular Iago was better, but it's hard to believe he might have been: this one was as clear, well defined, coherent and evil an Iago as I've seen.

The Othello was pretty good, too, particularly at building the hysteria (it actually didn't seem silly this time that Iago would suck him in so easily: this Othello seemed just full enough of himself -- I especially liked the way he was amused at all the fuss in Venice about his marrying Desdemona -- to make him vulnerable). The only thing I hesitated about in his role the whole time was the exchange about "Honest?" "Ay, honest." "Honest, my lord?" etc. It felt more programmed than thought. But there weren't many moments like that. And everybody else was pretty good, too: I particularly liked Desdemona, who was much livelier and more flirtatious than I remember a Desdemona. And the Emelia was very strong, too. Ted Follows was Brabantio, and as usual we found him, um, a bit fuzzy -- but strong enough. And the set was great -- simple and straightforward, with a sort of mast structure off to one side and a canopy with curtains which dropped down and let up to make Othello's tent. There was an excessively clever bed, which when it was needed sort of rolled itself forward and then bumped up a couple of inches like a Citroen getting ready to roll -- I couldn't see what the point of it was, but there you are. Some props person outsmarting herself.

Lots of other other good production values, and we just loved the house, which is sort of built into the middle of what was clearly once the Wolfville town rink. Nice live acoustics, wonderful thrust stage Seats about 500 and is intimate and live. And lots of space at the front of the house; you enter on street level and go down to a large bar and display space, or across a kind of bridge to the upper part of the house itself, looking down on the stage.

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